Digital marketing has opened vast new channels for marketers to shower potential customers with information about products. But as the buying dynamic shifts the focus from a seller’s products to its overall sales and service capabilities, many business-to-business marketers find it difficult to settle on a unifying theme for their marketing messages, says a new report from Forrester Research Inc.
Keeping marketing staff on message has never been an easy task for B2B marketing leaders, according to Forrester’s vice president and principal B2B marketing analyst Lori Wizdo, lead author of the report titled “B2B Marketers Must Step Up Message Management.” As marketers home in on stronger message management, there are several key market conditions to consider, including the following.
Product-specific messaging undermines the brand. Executive decision makers are involved in B2B buying processes at their beginning and end, and select suppliers by the value a supplier and its product provides, Wizdo writes. The problem is that too much emphasis on product-oriented content obscures that strategic value. The vice president of industry marketing at a global I.T. provider identified the danger: “The breadth of our portfolio and our global reach are a huge component of our brand value. When our various messages are not held together with the golden threads of our brand promise, we invite customers to discount our vision, innovation and quality, and focus on product features and price.”
Content marketing increases content clutter. Many B2B marketers have adopted content marketing—that is, product-focused marketing that ties promotions and other messages to product images and related content—as a strategy to better engage today’s self-directed, self-educating buyer, Wizdo writes. But the disconnected perspective and unsynchronized goals of content creators in different areas of an organization can muddle the message. About three-quarters of marketers responding to Forrester’s Q2 2016 International B2B Marketing Strategies and Tactics Online Survey said producing content that engages the right audience is a challenge. Many marketers understand that when content isn’t in synch it can deliver the wrong message to the wrong person at the wrong time.
Digital content packaging shrinks messages. The perceived need for more content volume has introduced some content repackaging practices, including the creation of smaller, easily consumable content pieces. That’s a messaging challenge, says one Forrester client with a package carrier. “Just a few years ago, we were producing a smaller number of large assets, such as white papers, which were dozens of pages long. And that process gave us the luxury of time to ensure the message was cogent, complete and consistent. Now, we are publishing higher volumes of more easily consumed content—and we don’t have the luxury of time.” The faster pace magnifies the problem when the message isn’t universal.
Social media makes everyone a brand ambassador. B2B marketers identify social as a top-three demand-generation tactic for building awareness, according to Forrester’s Data Global Business Technographics Marketing Survey in 2016. And B2B sellers who embrace selling through online social media are 72% more likely to exceed quotas than their peers who don’t, noted the Harvard Business Review in 2016. Such evidence of the value of social media marketing is driving B2B marketers to invest more in social selling and extend their brand reach through encouraging employees to become social media advocates for their brands. Nearly two-thirds of B2B marketers create online content to support social selling efforts, but if messages aren’t clear and consistent, they can do more harm than good, the report notes.
Planning or revisiting an overarching marketing message up front pays off, the report says. When the marketing team agrees on key messaging from the start, companies avoid defining the message every time new content is created. This means fewer iterations and faster content development. Message maps, or formalized plans, provide guidance to external resources, enabling them to create material that supports and elaborates on a company’s essential positioning.
“A message map marshals your thoughts and summarizes your go-to-market strategy in clear, jargon-free language,” Wizdo writes. “These maps empower the entire internal and external marketing ecosystem with a consistent approach to customer engagement.”
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